Funerary altar of 13-year-old girl found in Rome

Utility works in Rome have discovered the 2nd century marble funerary altar of a young girl. It is intact and in excellent condition. The find was made during work on the water network on Via Luigi Tosti, the street a mile south of the Porta Latina gate in the Aurelian Walls where the terracotta dog bearing a startling resemblance to the Cowardly Lion was unearthed earlier this year.

Found 6.5 feet below road level, the altar is carved out of white marble. It is topped with a bas relief of two songbirds on each side of bunch of grapes or fruit basket. Stylized half acanthus leaves bracket the pediment. Songbirds and fruits symbolized bounty and abundance and were common motifs in Greco-Roman funerary art, referencing the real garlands that would be draped on the exterior walls of temples and altars. The front of the altar is inscribed with a dedication to a daughter lost too soon.






The inscription records that the deceased, Valeria Laeta, lived only 13 years and 7 months. It’s not clear what the P stands for, but the convention suggests it was her father’s initial because the F stands for “filia” meaning daughter.

Fragments of a white marble sarcophagus were recovered next to the altar. It too was carved with an intricate relief depicting a lioness turning towards the horse rearing over her back (only the front two legs of the horse survive) while a hunting dog attacks her from the front. The fragment was part of a lenos, a tub-shaped sarcophagus echoing the troughs used to press grapes. Lenoi came to prominence in the second half of the 2nd century and elaborately decorated versions like this one were produced for the elite.

In the same trench was a small columbarium, a structure containing niches for cinerary remains. It is just 13 by 10 feet and built into a bank of volcanic tufa stone. Its walls are made of a concrete masonry core faced in opus latericium (brick cladding) of very high quality. The walls were then plastered and painted yellow and red to mimic marble slabs.

All of these elements were part of a larger complex of funerary structures built along the ancient Via Latina, one of the oldest Roman roads that led south from the Eternal City 125 miles to what is now Benevento, 30 miles north of Naples.

4 thoughts on “Funerary altar of 13-year-old girl found in Rome

  1. Likewise, I was wondering about the “P F”, but the “P” seemingly stands for “prima”.

    Hence, “prima filia” Valeria would have been their “first daughter”.


  2. The P is her father’s first initial, and stands for Publius. His name was probably Publius Valerius. There was a very limited number of first names for men, so they had a standard set of abbreviations for inscriptions.

    P F = Publii Filia (daughter of Publius).

    This is normal practice in boys and men’s names but rather unusual for a girl – might be emphasizing that they were Roman citizens or something else about the family.

  3. Finds like this always touch me. I’ve got kids and grandkids but the loss of a 13 year old I never knew and two centuries ago still means something.

  4. …”che potrebbe significare Valeria Laeta figlia di P[ublio] visse 13 anni e 7 mesi“, so that might well be:

    Yes, the “P.” could stand for “Publius”, but maybe not without his full name. Valeria as the “first daughter of the Laeta family” might be a combination of both suggestions.

    “Primus, Secundus, Tertius, Quartus, Quintus, Sextus, Septimus …”.

    Your point seems to be a particularly valid one, if the Romans only counted their sons and there is no “S.F.”, “T.F.”, “Q.F”… (you get the idea) on any other Roman tombstones. I would indeed not know of any examples.

    May the Fourth be with you! :yes:

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